Special Ed Student Efforts Underwrite Free Family Stays at Ronald McDonald House

Northview High School students proudly show off some of the 39 ½ gallons of pop tabs they collected. From left to right, they are (back row) Emma Clevenger, Zach Krebs and Anna Troop; (front row) Jacob VanAntwerp, Jayna Mojica, Caleb Butler and Christian McDonald

Taking a tour of Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, eight high school students were knocked out by the recreation room.

“Oh, nice!” one of them exclaimed as they stepped into the room outfitted with a pool table, foosball table and other fun stuff. “Whoa! Look at that huge doll house!” marveled another.

But the group from Northview High School seemed most touched when they visited one of 17 guest rooms for out-of-town families to stay in while their children receive medical care at local hospitals. They had come to support the home’s free services to those families with 39 ½ gallon jugs of pop tabs from soda and other cans, which the house will sell to a recycler to help fund its operations.

“This is something I’d kind of like to do in the future,” Anna Troop said as she admired the room. “I like helping people.”

Ronald McDonald House has been getting help for five years from special-education students in Northview’s community-based instruction program, which helps them learn about jobs and other social skills. They annually collect can tabs, helped by community members who bring them in by the bagful.

“It’s a pretty significant amount for something that’s easy to do,” Priester said. “It helps to raise awareness about the house, which leads to further engagement (with the community). A lot of people don’t even know we’re here.”Students from other school districts also chip in, including East Grand Rapids and Kentwood. All told the recycled tabs yield $6,000 to $12,000 a year toward the $125 per-night cost of housing each family, which includes free transportation and meals, said Megan Priester, housing services director.

Emma Clevenger and Christian McDonald helped collect the pop tabs, which yield revenue from recyclers

Happy to Help Families in Need

West Michigan’s only Ronald McDonald House serves families with children 21 years or younger, who receive care at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and other health-care facilities. More than 400 families a year stay there, coming from about 30 states and six other countries, Priester said.

The annual visit is a treat for students who get to see how the pop-tab money is used, said teacher Robyne Bailey, adding, “It makes them feel so good about themselves that they’re helping other people.”

Students enjoyed checking out the home’s spacious kitchen, laundry and other amenities. Afterward, they said they were glad to be able to contribute.

“I feel really good because I helped a family in crisis, and I always wanted to do that my whole life,” said Emma Clevenger.

Added Jayna Mojica, “It’s just a big blessing, because not very many people get help and you know that you want to help, and that you’ve done something right.”

“I don’t feel like a superhero,” said Anna Troop, “but I feel like I did something really good.”

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Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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